Prayer: A Mystery of Silence
Faire oraison. To 'make' prayer. The expression is strange since it suggests the idea of doing something, of obtaining a result, of producing or creating. There, one finds again the old temptation of Western contemplative thinking symbolized in the juggler of Notre Dame. The story is touching in so far as it shows us that God hardly pays attention of what one does for Him, since He sees the heart and not the deeds. Therefore, it is sad to see that the poor juggler little realized that it was enough to let his heart rest in the presence of the Lord in order to give him the very best. He had to do his juggling. It was not our Lady who needed to see him dance, it was the juggler himself who needed to do something. It was for him a matter of 'making' prayer.
It is not a question of 'making' prayer or even of making silence. Silence is not contrived. When one comes before the Lord with the mind full of images, with strong emotions and one's thoughts still in movement, one realizes the need for silence; the temptation then is to make silence. As if it were a question of clothing oneself in silence, of throwing over all the inner murmurings a cape which would hide or smother it. This is not to be silent; it is rather to cover up the noise or shut it up within ourselves, so that it is always ready to emerge at the slightest opportunity. There is no need to create silence or to inject it from without. It is already there and it is simply a matter of letting it rise from within us so that it eliminates by its very presence the noise that distracts or invades us. Silence can be mere nothingness: the silence of the stone, the silence of the mind numbed and deadened by its involvement with the material and exterior. This is not true silence. The only silence that counts is the presence of Him who is no-thing.
Does not prayer often mean returning gradually and simply to true silence? Certainly, not by doing anything or imposing some kind of yoke or burden on ourselves but, on the contrary, by letting all our activity subside, little by little, into that true interior silence that will begin to assert itself and resume its rightful place. Once we have heard this silence we thirst to find it again. We must, however, free ourselves from the idea that we can of ourselves reproduce it. It is there; it is always there even if we no longer hear it. Indeed, there are days when it is impossible to recapture it, for the mill of the mind is grinding and it is impossible to stop the workings of the imagination and the senses. Yet, silence does abide in the depths of our will as a peaceful and tranquil acceptance of the noise and disturbances that hinder our coming to serenity of mind. Normally, though, it should be possible by means of a certain physical and intellectual asceticism (breathing, posture, etc.) to calm the undisciplined impulses of the mind in order to achieve at least a little stillness. All the same, silence is more profound than all accepted forms of meditation: lectio divina, lights from the Lord that help us penetrate his mysteries, reflection on themes that merit our attention, etc. All this is good and helps us to approach the truth. It is all very necessary in its own time.
Silence, however, is deeper still and nothing can replace it. There are days when we must forego silence ín order to give our spirit the nourishment it needs. Yet we must not become light-headed with the wine of a partial truth which becomes clear to us; our thirst is deeper still and aims at a truth as near as possible to absolute Truth. Only silence, even if it is darkness, draws us to total light. Indeed, even the work of God only reveals to us its riches if it is the bearer of silence. The Divine Office only achieves its balance when it breathes forth in the depth of our soul the silence contained in the eternal Word.
We cannot, therefore, do anything. There is nothing to give. God does not wait for us to give Him little gifts. He has no use for bulls or wild rams; what He wants is the spiritual sacrifice of our hearts. Must we say, therefore, that if we have nothing to give that is outside of us, we must give our very selves? Not even that. He does not ask us to become agitated, to invent formulas or methods for offering ourselves. Besides, if we really thought about it, what could that possibly mean? To go out of ourselves? But that would be to lose ourselves, to renounce being our-selves, taking our soul in our hands and offering it to God. If it is then not a question of our making a formal offering, should we, therefore, be receiving a gift from the hands of God? Not that either. We do not receive a gift from God, whether little or great; it is God Himself that we receive. Yet what does this mean? Does He come to us in regal splendour, arrayed in majesty? In reality, we know that when we are silent God does not speak to us, nor does He reveal Himself in any way, and yet He gives Himself.
God gives Himself to me. Yet, we must be careful not to act like frogs and puff ourselves up in an attempt to become as big as God. The gift of God is not something foreign to us; in a way, it is not different from us at all. For God, to give Himself to us is to give us to ourselves. He gives me my being as child of God, ever springing forth anew Experience shows that silence brings us back to ourselves. The danger would be to turn in on ourselves, and find contentment in a sort of self-complacency. To be truly oneself is to drink deeply at the wellsprings of our being, or more exactly, to be the spring nourished and sustained at the heart of God Himself. God creates us in love and it is our being that we receive from Him in love. At one and the same time, we become ourselves and we receive God Himself. In fact, we are God, not through pantheism or monism, obviously, but by shared sonship. God begets me even before I know or desire ít; but He also gives me his Spirit who allows me to receive this gift, of which I cannot clearly say whether it is He or I myself. It is simply a question of being oneself, or better, of becoming oneself at every moment, together with the Son who, from all eternity, in one unchanging moment receives his being from the Father.
We are asked, therefore, to establish a relationship, not to achieve an end, or to realize an objective or to reach a goal. The aim, if we must use this word at all, is rather to be free from every concrete goal which might seem to be its own justification. There is nothing other to hope for or aim at than developing a true relationship with God in which we depend unconditionally on Him and do not seek any other support apart from Him. The gifts of God are important no longer; what we can get for ourselves has no more interest; only one thing really counts: to have a genuine relationship of love with God. This brings in no 'returns'. We do not seek to be enriched or to enrich others, even less to enrich God. It is a kind of all-inclusive relationship in which we lose all the limited goals in which we are continually tempted to find our security. Thus, not only our mind and our activity, but our very being risks finding itself cut off from what gives it pleasure in life. Nevertheless, is there anything in these comforts which can still appear interesting or worthwhile, when compared with this supreme luxury of being pure dependency, nothing but the begotten of the Father?
Nonetheless, it would be wrong to believe that we can attain this attitude of dependence in its purest form by distancing ourselves from creation. On the contrary, it is only by passing through a creature that we can enter the heart of God. The pure relatedness of which we are speaking is, in fact, the establishment of a relationship of dependence on the risen Christ: the Man-Jesus, Son of God not only by birth but by the power of the Spirit who raised Him from the dead to take his place as Son at the right hand of the Father. By his very being, He is the one who depends on the Father, and on whom we depend. The Paschal mystery is precisely the crucial moment in which his humanity, in giving itself to us without reserve, found itself in a state of complete dispossession which enabled Him to be fully receptive to the Father, to receive the name above all other names.
There is, therefore, a presence of Jesus in the Spirit which is at the heart of all true prayer. It is not necessarily a felt awareness, but a real correspondence between his heart and ours, between our humanity, its flesh and blood earthiness, and the humanity of the Son of Man who through the Resurrection assumed the creation in its fullness and dominion over the universe. Prayer is not, then, an elegant stroll along the high places of the spirit, but, as was said above, a return to the deepest source of our entire being; flesh, soul and spirit. This source is the Divinity which comes to us in the Spirit sent by the risen Son from the bosom of the Father.